DRUG-DETECTION DEVICE GETS EARLY TEST
WAUSAU - Wausau-area police officers are using their expertise in observing
signs of drug use to test the accuracy of a device that could revolutionize
the way they detect whether a driver is on drugs.
By testing drivers' saliva, the device may be able to confirm for officers
whether someone has used cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines or other
drugs before getting behind the wheel.
To use the device, an officer swabs a driver's mouth and inserts the swab
into a hand-held machine with a display that indicates whether drugs are
present. The testing began in Wausau in the past several weeks.
Tests on the device are being conducted at sites in five states and six
other countries. The Wausau area was chosen because several officers here
have been trained as drug recognition experts.
Wausau Police Officers Ben Bliven and Matt Barnes, who have received such
training, use a 45-minute, 12-step test on the city's streets to determine
which drugs a driver has used and how the drugs affect judgment on the
road. During traffic stops and crash investigations, drug recognition
experts record details about a person, such as body temperature and pupil
size, that show that his or her driving has been affected by drugs. As part
of the study, officers ask drivers they suspect of using drugs if they will
allow their saliva to be tested with the device.
Officers plan to collect 250 samples during the next several months that
they will submit to scientists at the State Laboratory of Hygiene.
The outcome of the study will affect whether the device becomes
commercially available to law enforcement agencies. The purpose of the
study is to evaluate the accuracy of the device and be sure it meets police
The device could eventually be a good tool for schools to determine if
students have taken drugs before going to class, Bliven said.
The study is partially financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's part of a
continuing effort by police to crack down on drivers who use drugs,
including over-the-counter medications, and continue to drive even though
their ability to observe, react and stay alert on the road could be impaired.